Friday June 8, 2012

LENOX -- Reflecting what Select Board Chairman Kenneth Fowler described as a vote of confidence, the Select Board has given three town leaders new three-year contracts.

Town Manager Gregory Federspiel, Police Chief Stephen O'Brien and Fire Chief Daniel Clifford will be serving the town until June 2015, according to the agreements. Details on salaries and pay increases will be made public after the contracts are signed.

At their Wednesday night meeting, the Selectmen approved the contracts, 5-0, without discussion.

Commenting on Thursday, Fowler said that "these are franchise guys; this is what you build your town on. They make mistakes, but they learn from them."

"I've seen Greg under a lot of pressure," Fowler told The Eagle. "But he's still able to keep a steady hand on things and move forward."

In Fowler's view, Federspiel has been criticized unjustly. "People blame him for everything that goes on, and then us," the Select Board chairman declared. "Greg takes a lot of responsibility for things that are not always his responsibility."

As an example, Fowler cited the town audit last winter that found fault with financial record-keeping -- an issue involving the former town accountant that the Select Board was aware of.

"To blame Greg wasn't appropriate," he said, citing the previous year's audit that uncovered no problems. "It wasn't like he was hiding anything from us."

"I take as much responsibility on that as he has," said Fowler of the town-account problems that have since been corrected. "He said he messed up on that one, he admits he made a mistake, we all make mistakes."

As for O'Brien and Clifford, Fowler said: "Both chiefs are rock solid, I have nothing but admiration for them. The response time of the departments is amazing."

"We're lucky to have these people," he added. "Let them plan their lives around good, solid contracts."

Federspiel received a mostly favorable evaluation from Select Board members and other Town Hall employees last month. Fowler said that out of 11 critiques submitted, "most were satisfactory, three were unsatisfactory and a couple were exceptional. I understand people who have issues with Greg, who don't like how he runs things. I know he has detractors. That's their opinion."

As Fowler put it: "We're going through one of the harshest financial climates we've had in decades. Greg has kept us on track, no one has been laid off, services haven't been diminished. That takes a lot of time, effort and thinking. People don't see that."